Sunday, 21 August 2011

If we do be clever

I have a pub quiz team, and one of the quizzes we go to has a bonus question which is worth five points if you get it right, but you lose five if you get it wrong. You can also choose not to play, and not take the risk.*

We were deliberating this one week, as we had an answer but it was risky, and we wondered if we should try to be clever or just play it safe. My team-mate said to me,
If we do be clever...
Copula be is not normally a verb that can take an emphatic do in Standard English. (It can in some dialects - it sounds kind of West Country to me, I think.) However, in this instance, it was required. If she had said
If we are clever...
then our cleverness is an attribute that we have, not a temporary behaviour. Be in this utterance is a dynamic verb rather than a stative one, but that doesn't quite explain it. Other verbs that can be stative and non-stative can take do:
She has two children.
She is having a baby.
If she does have a baby...
I think this might just be a lacuna, a gap in the language. There's no grammatical reason, as far as I can see, for be to act like a stative verb even when it isn't.

There are other tests for whether a verb is stative and be in this sense has mixed results:
We are being clever [progressive]
??They forced us to be clever [complement of force]
??Be clever! [imperative]
??What we did was be clever [pseudo-cleft]

*In fact, that's a linguistic issue in itself. The wording of the instructions is:
Five points for a correct answer, five away if you get it wrong or don't play.
This is ambiguous, with the scope of the disjunction not clear. Is it that there's five points off if you get it wrong OR you can choose not to play, or is it that you lose five points IF you either get it wrong OR don't play? In other words, is the structure this:
...[DisjP [DP 5 points off if you get it wrong] [Disj or [CP don't play]]]

or this:
...[CP if [DisjP [TP you get it wrong] [Disj or [TP you don't play]]]

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